by Mary Jane Parker, Master Gardener
Somebody once told me that you should try growing something six times unsuccessfully before you give up. I have not stopped there yet with Sweet Peas. I grow them but they never are as full and beautiful as the pictures I have seen or the seed package covers. So I bought The Sweet Pea Book by Graham Rice. It has lots of interesting ideas and a multitude of cultivation tips.
The first thing that I learned is that some varieties were selected over time for our climate of hot summers and cold winters. Cuthbertsons and the Royals are two examples. This is at variance with the British climate where they can be planted either in pots or the ground in the fall and overwintered outside.
Another thing that I learned is that timing is everything. I planted mine March 6. If you grow them and pinch the growth at 3 inches, how much more will they grow and how fast? Graham Rice says that if they get too tall and lanky before planting out they will not thrive. The package says to plant in April outside and I remember my Dad (he of the farming roots) saying that they used to plant peas as soon as the ground could be worked – sometimes even in February. This, I think, has been my downfall in years past.
Planting is straightforward and cultivation is pretty easy. Low nitrogen fertilizer every couple of weeks and good organic compost. Situating your sweet peas is pretty important. Here iour zone they require full sun in early spring but not so much when temperatures heat up. As with lots of other plants, do not plant in dry zones around walls of buildings and tree bases.
So here’s hoping that this year’s crop of Sweet Peas will be an enormous success at last.